Risotto is delicious. I love risotto, but would always eat it out—at my friends’ houses or at restaurants—because, although it is delicious, I also found it somewhat mysterious. How can rice become so tasty? I was sceptical about my ability to cook it at home. How would I be able to turn bland rice into scrumptious risotto? The answer, I learned, is to identify and use the right ingredients. As it turns out, Risotto is more than just rice! There are several other ingredients that need to be added, in the right amount, and in the right order. Once all the ingredients are combined, a delicious meal emerges.
Effective personal ministry can be similar. To many, from pastors to small group leaders, effectiveness in personal ministry can appear mysterious and complicated. To be sure, there is a complexity to ministry—as well as a reliance on the supernatural work of God’s Holy Spirit! But there is also a delightful simplicity that revolves around some core ministry ingredients.
There are a lot of good ways to answer this, but Paul Tripp penned one of my favourite. Dr Tripp defines personal ministry as:
The “careful ministry of Christ and His Word to the struggles of heart that have been uncovered by good questions from a committed friend.”
In this succinct definition, Dr Tripp gives us four of the key ingredients to effective personal ministry. Let’s briefly consider each ingredient.
Careful Ministry of Christ and His Word…
Both counselling and discipleship ought to be marked by a careful use of the Bible. The Bible is absolutely central to how we think about our lives, so we want to make sure that we’re placing the joys and sorrows of life within a genuinely Christian framework. We also want to be speaking God’s truth to one another, not simply sharing our opinions or passing on inherited values. And we want to do this carefully— not being too fanciful with Scripture, not taking promises out of context, or handling the Bible glibly.
The apostle Paul says that gospel workers should make a big effort to handle God’s Word rightly (2 Timothy 2:15). A key ingredient in effective personal ministry, therefore, involves rightly handling Christ’s Word.
…To the Struggles of Heart…
The heart is the target in ministry. While we want to dispense accurate spiritual information to those we minister to, our goal is not simply their increased theological knowledge. We know that our big need is heart renewal—beneath the surface of everyday sins and sorrows, there lies a battle raging in each of our hearts. In the ordinary moments of everyday life, these are the heart issues that we wrestle with: whom will I trust? Who or what will I look to for help, hope, comfort or relief? Who or what am I tempted to seek, delight in, or worship?
For effective personal ministry to take place, we must consider both ingredients: divine truth and the human heart. Personal ministry occurs when both ingredients are being used.
…That Have Been Uncovered by Good Questions…
The first two ingredients raise further questions: “How am I going to know what this person’s particular heart struggles are?” “How am I going to know which truths are most relevant if I cannot see what is going on inside their hearts?”
The answer is gloriously simple:
Ask good questions!
Good questions act as a vegetable peeler: they remove the outer layers so that you can see under the surface. Good questions enable you to see what your friend was thinking or feeling when they said or did that particular thing. Good questions break through the superficiality that marks too much of our relationships and ministry. Good questions enable you to uncover the struggles of the heart, and so they’re a vital ingredient in effective ministry.
On a personal note: for years, I had undervalued good questions. I foolishly thought that one simply needed to “speak truth” to people in order to do effective ministry. I am increasingly realizing how important asking good questions really is. Effective ministry is not less than Bible teaching, but it is more than Bible teaching. Don’t forget about this excellent ingredient, or your ministry will likely lack taste!
…From a Committed Friend.
Our fourth vital ingredient is spiritual friendship. Effective ministry boosts good relationships— you may not perhaps start out as friends, but hopefully after journeying together in Christ, you will experience the richness and depth of spiritual friendship.
This also reminds us that ministry is personal, not professional. I am not a guru or sage who simply dispenses aphorisms to relative strangers; I am a friend, a fellow pilgrim, another human in daily need of Christ’s mercies. Therefore I am open to learning from those I minister to! Their perseverance through difficulties can greatly encourage and challenge me, even as I seek to minister to them.
Personal ministry has little room for celebrity, professionalism, or façade. Christ relates to us in personal ways, calling us friends and revealing his heart to us. He draws us to himself in relationship, exposing our hearts and connecting his truth and grace to our need.
A Delicious Risotto or Tasteless Rice?
Sadly, all too often our ministry lacks one or more of these vital ingredients. When that happens, things become bland, dull, and tasteless. Different people will gravitate to certain ingredients more than others, so be sure to audit yourself: Which of these do you tend to over-emphasize at the expense of the others? Which ingredients do you need to add to your ministry recipe?
Personal ministry is the careful ministry of Christ and His Word to the struggles of heart that have been uncovered by good questions from a committed friend. May God help us to add all these ingredients together, so that our ministries brim with the aroma of Christ and nourish the souls of people.
Join the Conversation
Which of these 4 vital ingredients of personal ministry do you tend to over-emphasize at the expense of the others? Which ingredients do you need to add to your ministry recipe?